Monday, May 26, 2008

An eye for an eye (or a hoof for a flower)

When I was five-years-old, my parents took me to the movies to see the theatrical re-release of Bambi. Ten minutes into the movie, when the hunter’s fatal shot ended the life of Bambi’s mother, I burst into hysterics and had to be removed from the theater.

I’m sure there are people scattered all over the Berkshires who to this day remember the screaming child from that night. (And of course, we were seated in the front so it was a undoubtedly a loooonngg walk for my mom and dad).

Many years later, I find myself living in a part of New Jersey that is overrun with deer. They decimate gardens. They run out in front of cars on a regular basis. I myself have almost collided with a deer on two separate occasions and have resigned myself to the fact that if I live in this part of the world long enough, eventually I will hit one.

Deer are a huge problem here. It’s not really the deer’s fault. Only a couple of decades ago, this part of N.J. was mostly woods, field and horse pasture. Those natural spaces have given way to one subdivision and housing project after another as suburban sprawl has radiated further and further from the nucleus of New York City. Where else are the deer – who were here first – supposed to go besides backyards and roadways?

But still, it’s a problem. Anyone who lives out here and wants any type of landscaping is left with two choices: Plant a limited amount of boring plants (think boxwoods and evergreens) or put up an eight-foot-high deer fence.

My first year here, I planted a number of “deer resistant” plants only to wake one morning to learn the hard way that a herd of deer will eat almost anything when hungry enough. The tears shed that morning were not quite as severe as the ones in the theater in 1975, but it was close.

After that I tried a number of deer repellents including noxious smelling sprays (including coyote urine – I don’t even want to think about how that was collected), human hair and clanking cans tied to bushes. Nothing worked, so four years ago we installed a deer fence and I’ve been a happy gardening fool ever since.

Well, almost ever since. It seems that we have a breach in our security. Two weeks ago, while strolling through the yard I noticed that all nine huge, mature hostas planted around the trees on the far side of the yard were eaten down to two-inch stems. Every lovely leaf was gone.

Could rabbits have done that?I wondered. I already knew the answer, but I didn’t want to believe it. Then three mornings later, I opened up my curtains to see six deer standing in my backyard.

I yelled out a few really choice swear words that I save only for times when I am most supremely pissed off and it’s like they KNEW there was one mad gardening mama in the vicinity – off they bolted toward the woods. Since then, we’ve been trying to figure out how they are getting in. There are two suspicious spots where trees fell on the fence. We repaired them, but huge logs remain giving the deer a nature-made step stool into our yard.

Every morning I open the blinds, hold my breath and carefully scan the garden for damage. While we were in Massachusetts this weekend, they got in and ate the tops off every single phlox plant in my yard. About two dozen of them. All. Gone.

I hate when I see them dead on the side of the road, because I feel that’s just a waste of life. But as for hunting? Yeah, I’m not really so much opposed to that anymore.

If I ever let my girls watch Bambi, I don’t think I’ll have the same tears to shed. Venison anyone?



Blogger Mayberry said...

Just today someone asked me if rabbits ever eat my rosebushes. No, but THANKS A LOT for planting THAT seed! I just KNOW I am going to wake up tomorrow to find a whole family of Thumpers chowing down.

11:42 PM  
Blogger Mayberry said...

PS I am sorry about your garden! Didn't mean to make your post all about me!

11:42 PM  
Blogger Jennifer H said...

That would make me nuts, especially if I had taken all the right measures to keep them out.

I have sympathy for the deer, too, but imagine if it was a hundred years ago and the deer ate your whole vegetable garden? I would have invented a few choice words.

I'm learning about co-existing with wildlife this week, too, but your story carries more frustration, I think!

Saw your link in the BlogHer articles--I'm glad to find a new blog to read!

4:35 PM  
Blogger XUP said...

It's a conundrum. We encroach on their space and wipe out everything they'd normally eat and then get mad at them for trying to stay alive. I guess if we want to have urban sprawl the most humane thing would be to kill off all the wildlife before constructing homes

5:45 PM  
Blogger Kimberly said...

Mayberry - I hope no Thumpers make their way to your roses.

Jennifer - welcome! Always nice to have new readers.

XUP - It is a conundrum. The thing that drives me crazy is that we have over 3.5 acres and only about 1/3 of that is our yard. The rest is nice, lush woods. I'd have no problem if they came in and ate what's in the woods but NOOOOO, they'd rather eat yummy flowers. So it's not really so much an issue that they have nothing to eat - they'd just rather eat the "chocolate" vs. the "broccoli." And that's where I get annoyed.

7:56 PM  
Blogger Maureen said...

What if you put up suet for them to eat? Or a salt lick? This is what my in-laws do upstate. It keeps the deer away, mostly.

We have the same problem here, always have. I can remember my father going batty over what was eating all his vegetables. Our other problem is either groundhogs or woodchucks - one of them used to have a field day with the plumb garden veggies!

I hope you find a solution! Maybe you can plant flowers that deer don't enjoy so much? Maybe Mr. Google can tell you what those are!

8:54 AM  
Blogger ryssee said...

Aaargh, I can feel your frustration!
I'd be so mad! We have raccoons and squirrels that dig in my flowerboxes on the deck, but only 2 of the 10 or so.
I love Maureen's idea about the salt lick! Maybe you can put one at the suspected entryway, or grow or leave something for them there. Good luck-I know how much work it is!

6:24 PM  
Blogger ryssee said...

(...but then again, would that be an invitation to every deer in town?)

6:25 PM  

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